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Thread: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

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    Default How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I'm trying to figure out if it's worth it for me to switch string gauges. I have light gauge strings on my Kentucky A-style, which seem like they are a little easier to play than the medium gauge strings I have on my Morris F-style. The Morris has a much deeper, fuller sound that I really like. I know most of the difference is in the mandolin itself, but I wanted to know if I could close that gap by putting heavier gauge strings on my Kentucky and whether it would be worth the playability difference. If there's not much difference, I'd probably put lights on my Morris too.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I would say string gauge contributes a lot to tone, I recently picked up a Collings F5, it came with light strings, while they were super slick to fret, I felt the tone was not what I wanted, I put a set of mediums on and- big difference, especially in the bottom end woof and high end sustain.
    Also Monel or coated strings will make a difference in tone, less ringy, and somewhat less overtone ( But I love overtone so...)
    between you and me I would put mediums on the Kentucky and keep the same mediums on the Morris.
    As always I have to give a shout out to Curt Mangan strings, I am pretty much exclusively Curt Mangan strings these days.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I just went from mediums to lights (10-38) on my Kentucky KM-250 and I much prefer them. I donít know that Iíve noticed a difference in tone at all, but Iíve definitely noticed a difference in playability. I doubt Iíll go back to 11-40s.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    It's a relatively simple procedure to change the strings and observe the result. We can't tell you how your mandolin (and you) will respond to different string gauges but you can see for yourself. There will be differences in feel, response and other things that are not exactly "sound", and you might like them better or not as well.
    It boils down to you and your mandolin and your preferences.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    All I would advise is to experiment. Strings aren’t as expensive as mandolins, so if you are planning to stick with playing for the rest of your life, then splurge on extra pack of different strings from time to time and find out for yourself what you, and your own mandolin, prefer. It’s a worthy experiment.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    It's a relatively simple procedure to change the strings and observe the result. We can't tell you how your mandolin (and you) will respond to different string gauges but you can see for yourself. There will be differences in feel, response and other things that are not exactly "sound", and you might like them better or not as well.
    It boils down to you and your mandolin and your preferences.
    This is what I was thinking I'd do; just wanted to check if it was likely to make a difference before I went ahead and ordered a bunch of strings.

    Follow-up question: what sort of strings would darken the sound of a very bright mandolin while keeping a relatively powerful attack?
    There's nothing better than playing music you like with people you like.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    All I would advise is to experiment. Strings aren’t as expensive as mandolins, so if you are planning to stick with playing for the rest of your life, then splurge on extra pack of different strings from time to time and find out for yourself what you, and your own mandolin, prefer. It’s a worthy experiment.
    The price is one thing that really attracts me to trying out strings instead of trying to trade in my Kentucky - I figure I don't need anything too fancy as my back-up but I do want it to sound nice to my ears.
    There's nothing better than playing music you like with people you like.
    2022 Morris F5 #482, 1995 Flatiron 2MB

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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    On the better mandolins I’ve had I’ve switched back and forth between J-74 and J-75 gauge strings based on what my local shop had in stock, and there was a minor difference in feel and tone, but nothing major. On my first mando, a very overbuilt Kentucky 675-S from just after their move to China…quality is much better now. Anyway, on that mandolin the heavier strings made a huge difference in volume and tone. That thick top and finish needed the heavier strings to drive it.

    So, yeah, give it a shot. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to change back if it doesn’t work out.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    It's a relatively simple procedure to change the strings and observe the result.
    You might want to try recording yourself before and after the string change so you can do an A/B playback comparison.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    You might want to try recording yourself before and after the string change so you can do an A/B playback comparison.
    Good idea! I'll definitely do this.

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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    It doesn't only change the tone on the instrument, but string gauge also affects the feel of the instrument, how hard it is to push the strings down behind the fret, how much vigor it takes to pluck or strum.

    I agree that experimenting will be valuable. I think, all things considered, I think you will quickly know if it is a volume or tone or playability that you like or not.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by milli857 View Post
    Follow-up question: what sort of strings would darken the sound of a very bright mandolin while keeping a relatively powerful attack?
    For the first part of your question I would say try flatwounds but even the stark T-Is may not maintain the attack though I am not sure what you mean by that. What I find playing the finer instruments is that there is more headroom and responsiveness. There may be that limitation with your Kentucky. You can play those very soft and hear dulcet tones but also play them super hard and still maintain the appealing tonality. Also you get some sweetness vs. percussiveness in the upperend notes as well.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I've only used lights on mandolin.

    On steel-string guitar, which I've played for a long time, lighter strings have more twang, and heavier strings have more volume.

    Someone here with more mando experience can tell you whether the same is true for mandolin strings.
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    Registered User Mando Esq's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I’ve definitely found medium gauge strings to have more volume and a fuller tone than light gauge strings.
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    Default Re: Impact of String Gauge on Tremolo

    Newbie here attempting to learn how to tremolo and struggling. I am playing a 1971 Martin A Model mandolin with light strings. Does the string gauge impact a persons ability to tremolo or is player skill more important?
    Thanks

  21. #16

    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Some of the newer mando's today are not made for heavy gauge strings ....most are made for mediums and therfore not a problem for light gauge ..but be careful before using heavy gauge it could lead to problems if your mando is not rated for heavy gauge strings.

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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    The plain steel strings will be the same in pretty much every set of strings, so if the E strings are bright you may want to try a heavier pick. If you can get used to it, I used to prefer it. a rounded pick will give you a much warmer sound.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by jherm View Post
    Some of the newer mando's today are not made for heavy gauge strings ....most are made for mediums and therfore not a problem for light gauge ..but be careful before using heavy gauge it could lead to problems if your mando is not rated for heavy gauge strings.
    I remember when Martin stopped took away its lifetime guarantees for original owners who used heavy strings — a big blow to bluegrass but a lifesaver for those guitars.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Impact of String Gauge on Tremolo

    Quote Originally Posted by Buddelje View Post
    Newbie here attempting to learn how to tremolo and struggling. I am playing a 1971 Martin A Model mandolin with light strings. Does the string gauge impact a persons ability to tremolo or is player skill more important?
    Thanks
    Not a pro or luthier, but I think you'll find that string gauge mainly affects the sound and left-hand speed and comfort. For tremolo, you'll find more payoff if you experiment with different picks. Pick weight, shape, and material make a big difference — much moreso than with guitar.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Quote Originally Posted by jherm View Post
    Some of the newer mando's today are not made for heavy gauge strings ....most are made for mediums and therfore not a problem for light gauge ..but be careful before using heavy gauge it could lead to problems if your mando is not rated for heavy gauge strings.
    I don’t know if any mandolin strings sold today that at are labelled heavy. Standard medium gauge like D’Addario J-74 are fine for his Kentucky and I believe the only heavier gauge would be j-75 and I think they are fine too. Not sure what you are referring to.
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    Registered User Tavy's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I would yes, a big difference in tone, and in general thin strings sound "thin" and thick ones sound rich/full and well "thick". So yes experiment and see what sounds best, you might find that flatwounds are the way to go if the instrument sound too bright, but note that that only effects the wound strings. Personally, I don't like anything less that 11's on the e strings (unless it's a vintage instrument of course), anything else sounds way too bright and thin to me.

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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Much of this is personal preference. The trade off between ease of play and volume for example. One mandolinner I know uses light strings on mandolins fully capable of handling medium or even heavy. He has explained that the lighter strings give him the ability to play fast, (which he can and does), and that he can always get a mic if he needs it.

    I am told that my Stiver mandolin was made with heavy strings in mind, i.e. designed around heavy strings. So I use heavy, and I like the results I get. I use mediums on the rest, and like the results there too. On bowlbacks I use ultra-lite strings, because they are older than somewhat.
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I recently switched from EJ74's to EJ73's on my Big Mon. I was expecting a change in tone, but surprisingly I didn't notice much of a difference. Projection/volume is still good also. The difference in string tension can be modestly felt with my fretting hand. Changing to a lighter string set did require a slight tweak in setup (truss rod).

    My other F style mandolin is still strung with EJ74's. I switch playing back and forth between instruments, and I just don't notice that big of a difference overall. As long as I can make decent sounding chords and melodies then I think I will not worry about this issue personally.

    It will be up to your impressions if you try a different string gauge yourself. The rest of us are just gonna throw some differing opinions at you.

  30. #24
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    I don't see much (any, really) talk of La Bella strings here, but they are what I like. Their "mediums" are slightly lighter than everyone else's, and their silver-plated mediums are lighter still: https://www.labella.com/product/770m-mandolin/ You might give them a try.
    ...

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: How much of a difference in sound does string gauge make?

    Am now running lights on all my mandolins except for the Coombe which has D'Addario flatwounds. Don't notice a difference in sound. Although have to be a little pickier on setup to not get buzzing.

    Have GHS on the Flatiron, Elixir on the Brentrup and monel on the Strad-O-Lin.

    Personally find that pick style and thickness makes more of a difference in sound. At least with my hands and my ears and the way I play.

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